Love ’em or hate ’em, emoji are an integral part of internet culture and they’re only increasing in popularity. But despite their ubiquity, they’re a relatively recent addition to the digital world.
In fact, they were first created in 1999 by a certain engineer called Shigetaka Kurita who worked for NTT Docomo. Initially, there were just 172 of the little pictures, and they were used on the company’s i-mode phone. Later, the Unicode Consortium’s hand was forced by Japanese industry to include the little images for completeness.
But when did it all really kick off? When Apple released the first iPhone in Japan and buckled under similar pressure to the Unicode Consortium to include emoji in iOS.
It’s no surprise that millenials have embraced emoji and their pixelated cousins, emoticons. Ambiguous, superficial, and cute, they’re perfectly suited to a generation that sends Hallmark e-cards ironically, circulates step-by-step guides to “being deep,” and dismisses “deep meaningful conversations” as “DMC’s.”